A.I. Is Learning From Humans. Many Humans.

Prasenjit Baidya grew up on a farm about 30 miles from Kolkata, the largest city in West Bengal, on the east coast of India. His parents and extended family still live in his childhood home, a cluster of brick buildings built at the turn of the 19th century. They grow rice and sunflowers in the surrounding fields and dry the seeds on rugs spread across the rooftops.

He was the first in his family to get a college education, which included a computer class. But the class didn’t teach him all that much. The room offered only one computer for every 25 students. He learned his computer skills after college, when he enrolled in a training course run by a nonprofit called Anudip. It was recommended by a friend, and it cost the equivalent of $5 a month.

Anudip runs English and computer courses across India, training about 22,000 people a year. It feeds students directly into iMerit, which its founders set up as a sister operation in 2013. Through Anudip, Mr. Baidya landed a job at an iMerit office in Kolkata, and so did his wife, Barnali Paik, who grew up in a nearby village.

Over the last six years, iMerit has hired more than 1,600 students from Anudip. It now employs about 2,500 people in total. More than 80 percent come from families with incomes below $150 a month.

Founded in 2012 and still a private company, iMerit has its employees perform digital tasks like transcribing audio files or identifying objects in photos. Businesses across the globe pay the company to use its workers, and increasingly, they assist work on artificial intelligence.

“We want to bring people from low-income backgrounds into technology — and technology jobs,” said Radha Basu, who founded Anudip and iMerit with her husband, Dipak, after long careers in Silicon Valley with the tech giants Cisco Systems and HP.

The average age of these workers is 24. Like Mr. Baidya, most of them come from rural villages. The company recently opened a new office in Metiabruz, a largely Muslim neighborhood in western Kolkata. There, it hires mostly Muslim women whose families are reluctant to let them outside the bustling area. They are not asked to look at pornographic images or violent material.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/technology/ai-humans.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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